Blog, Exhibitions

Cindy Sherman

National Portrait Gallery, London 27 June – 15 September 2019

Cindy Sherman’s groundbreaking series, Untitled Film Stills, 1977-80, is currently on public display for the first time in the UK, in a major new retrospective of the artist’s work at the National Portrait Gallery, London. Cindy Sherman, explores the development of her work from the mid-1970s to the present day. The exhibition features around 180 works from international public and private collections, as well as new work never before displayed in a public gallery.

Widely regarded as one of the world’s leading contemporary artists, Cindy Sherman, (b. 1954), first gained widespread critical recognition for Untitled Film Stills, the series that she commenced shortly after moving to New York in 1977. Comprising 70 images, the work was the artist’s first major artistic statement and defined her approach. With Sherman herself as model wearing a range of costumes and hairstyles, her black and white images captured the look of 1950s and 60s Hollywood, film noir, B movies and European art-house films. Building on that layer of artifice, the fictional situations she created were photographed in a way that recalls the conventions of yesterday’s cinema. As a result, each photograph depicts its subject, namely the artist, refracted through a layer of artifice – a veneer of representation. 

Cindy Sherman at Private View – National Portrait Gallery

It is important to realize this is in no way similar to today’s instagram selfies. Unlike those who post themselves on instagram, wanting to be seen and admired, Sherman uses herself as a blank canvas that is hidden, transfigured and disguised. The exhibition sees all five of Sherman’s Cover Girl series, completed when she was a student in 1976, displayed together for the first time. Other key works are from the artist’s most important series including Rear Screen Projections, Centrefolds, History Portraits, Fairy Tales, Sex Pictures, Masks, Headshots, Clowns and Society Portraits. In a revealing juxtaposition, Ingres’s celebrated portrait of Madame Moitessier has been borrowed especially for the exhibition and is displayed alongside Sherman’s version of that historic painting.

‘Centrefolds’ was a commissioned piece by Art Forum magazine in 1981. It was presumed that Sherman would photograph women laid out for delectation of the male gaze, but instead she showed women as a psychologically frail, and with personality. The work was rejected by Art Forum as it showed an opposite impression to delectability, that of vulnerability.

Cindy Sherman is at once disgusted and fascinated by magazines. Between 1983- 84 she was asked to produce some fashion shots of the clothes of Jean Paul Gaultier so she shot them, on her disguised self, looking fraught, depressed and deranged. The irony is, that the more she attacks the fashion industry the more the fashion houses love her work.  

Cindy Sherman focuses on the artist’s manipulation of her own appearance and her deployment of material derived from a range of cultural sources in order to create imaginary portraits that explore the tension between façade and identity. She is famous for her use of make-up, costumes, props and prosthetics to create complex and ambiguous photographic images. A range of source material from the artist’s studio is shown in order to provide unprecedented insights into her working processes. Taking a quotation from Alfred Hitchcock’s 1954 film, Rear Window, which Sherman has cited as an important influence: ‘Tell me everything you saw and what you think it means’ as its central theme, the exhibition examines in detail Sherman’s rich and varied visual language – which draws on cinema, television, advertising and fashion.

Paul Moorhouse, Curator, Cindy Sherman, says: ‘Cindy Sherman’s art is completely distinctive. By inventing fictitious characters and photographing herself in imaginary situations, she inhabits a world of pure appearance. No other artist interrogates the illusions presented by modern culture in such a penetrating way – or scrutinizes so tellingly the façades that people adopt. Probing the elusive connection between appearance and meaning, her work explores contemporary life – and with sharp observation exposes its deceptions.’

Cindy Sherman is curated by Paul Moorhouse, independent curator and writer, formerly Senior Curator of 20th Century Portraits and Head of Displays (Victorian to Contemporary) at the National Portrait Gallery. He is the author of Cindy Sherman, published by Phaidon in 2014.

Cindy Sherman  27 June – 15 September 2019 at the National Portrait Gallery, London www.npg.org.uk

Tickets without donation: Full price £18, Concessions £16.50

Tickets with donation: Full price £20, Concessions: £18.50

Free for Members and Patrons

Cindy Sherman is sponsored by: Calvin Klein

National Portrait Gallery, St Martin’s Place WC2H 0HE, opening hours Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Saturday, Sunday: 10.00 – 18.00 (Gallery closure commences at 17.50) Late Opening: Thursday, Friday: 10.00 – 21.00 (Gallery closure commences at 8.50pm) Nearest Underground: Leicester Square/Charing Cross General information: 0207 306 0055 Recorded information: 020 7312 2463 Website www.npg.org.uk

Blog, Exhibitions

Chihuly at Kew

Visit Kew Gardens to see the iridescent glass sculptures of Dale Chihuly and the magnificent Hive installation by Wolfgang Buttress.

At the end of Chelsea Flower show and the opening of many Gardens under the International Garden Scheme it seemed like a good time to visit Kew gardens. If like me, you choose a bank holiday Monday, go by public transport as it is near impossible to find a place to park. Having said that, once you are in the gardens they are so vast even with the large numbers of visitors it feels tranquil and not crowded.

         I had two reasons to visit, beside all the magnificent plant specimens, the first was the Hive the 17 meter high Installation and the second was to see the work of glass artist Dale Chihuly in the natural surroundings for which it was intended.

   From a distance the hive looks like a swarm of bees, as you get closer you can see the honey comb structure. The hive is made up of 169,300 pieces of aluminium and steel. You can climb up and see the sky through the hole in the top  of the structure or look down through the glass floor beneath your feet.

         The Hive, a symbol of UK creativity and innovation was commissioned by the UK Government for 2015 Milan Expo. It was created by Wolfgang Buttress, Simmonds Studio, Stage One and BDP. It gives a glimpse into the life of a bee colony.

         Honey bees communicate through smells and vibration, different pulses translate into different messages. Installed in the hive are 1,000 LED lights that connect to one of Kew’s bee hives. The illumination of the lights represent the bees’ ‘communications’ and the vibrational changes occurring within Kew’s hive.

         Accompanying the dazzling display  is a beautiful symphony of orchestral sounds performed in the key of C – the same key that bees buzz in.

        

         Chihuly is one of the most daring and innovative artists working in glass. You may already know his work, as his Chandelier ice Blue and Spring hangs under the glass rotunda at the entrance to the V&A museum in South Kensington.

Chihuly’s dazzling sculptures transform Kew Gardens and glasshouses into a contemporary outdoor gallery space.

Unique art installations are situated across the grounds, including the Shirley Sherwood Gallery of Botanical Art. Here you can see his Drawings and Rotolo series – the most technically challenging work Chihuly has ever created – and Seaforms, undulating forms that conjure underwater life. 

One of the highlights is the film that is shown in the Shirley Sherwood Gallery. it includes Chihuly’s progression as an artist , his working methods and how each piece is conceived made and installed. His ambitious site specific  projects include Chihuly over Venice, Chihuly in the light of Jerusalem and his current work in Kew.

There are many outstandingly beautiful pieces to see.

The celestial vibrant blue masterpiece Sapphire Star welcomes you as you walk through Victoria Gate.

The Temperate House is home to a brand new, specially designed sculpture inspired by the cathedral space it inhabits until the end of October. 

I want my work to appear like it came from nature, so that if someone found it on a beach or in the forest they might think it belonged there. Dale Chihuly

Kew is decidedly family friendly and amongst other things there is a Family trail following the art works with a booklet for children. The Chihuly exhibition runs until 27th October 2019 kew.org

Blog, Exhibitions

Living Colour

Opening tomorrow An exhibition of the work of pioneering Abstract Expressionist artist Lee Krasner (1908-1984)

30th May -1st September at the Barbican

Lee Krasner Desert Moon 1955. Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

Joy oh joy this exhibition is fabulous. What a coup for the Barbican the first European exhibition for over 50 years of the work of, American artist, Lee Krasner. The exhibition will then tour to Frankfurt, Bern and Bilbao.

Lee Krasner painting Portrait in Green in her studio in Springs, NY,1969. Photograph by Mark Patiky

         Living Colour features nearly 100 works-many on show in the UK for the first time – across her 50year career, and tells the story of a formidable artist whose importance has often been eclipsed by her marriage to Jackson Pollock.

Lee Krasner Palingenesis, 1971

Jane Alison, Head of Visual Arts, Barbican, said ‘We are thrilled to be staging Lee Krasner: Living Colour. Despite featuring in museum collections around the world and being one of the few women to have a solo show at New York’s Museum of Modern Art, in 1984, Krasner has not received the recognition she deserves in Europe, making this an exciting opportunity for visitors here to experience the sheer impact of her work.”

Lee Krasner 1938 photographer unknown

The exhibition celebrates Krasner’s spirit for invention –including striking early self portraits, a body of energetic charcoal life drawings; original photographs of her proposed department store window displays, designed during the war effort, and her acclaimed ‘Little Image’ paintings from the 1940s with their tightly controlled geometrics.

Lee Krasner Abstract No 2 1946-48

  

It also featured collages comprised of torn-up earlier work and a selection of her most impressive large scale abstract paintings.

Lee Krasner Polar Stampede 1960

Krasner was determined to find new ways to capture inner experience. As playwright Edward Albee commented at her memorial at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, in both her life and her work ‘ she looked you in the eye, and you dare not flinch’.

Lee Krasner Icarus 1964

The work is accompanied by rare photography and film from the period, in an elegant exhibition design by David Copperfield Architects. There is a very nice fully illustrated Thames and Hudson book to accompany the exhibition £35 www.barbican.org/artgallery

Blog, Exhibitions

Dorothea Tanning the best female twentieth century artist you’ve never heard of.

Her work is currently on show at Tate Modern. Tanning is one of a number of unjustly overlooked female artists whose work has been reassessed in recent years.

Birthday 1942 oil paint on canvas (Self Portrait)

The show’s curator, Ann Coxon, says that Tanning not only suffered from the sexism of the Surrealist movement but also from her own resistance to being labeled as a feminist artist. This meant that she, in effect, excluded herself from the feminist exhibitions of surrealist art in the late 1980’s and 1990’s.

Her time has now come, as she fits in well with the Tate’s mission to display the work of twentieth century female artists.

At the start of her career Tanning was a surrealist painter. She was totally hooked on the idea after seeing the groundbreaking exhibition ‘Fantastic Art, Dada and surrealism at the Museum of Modern Art. This prompted her to visit Paris in 1939, a trip that was cut short by the German invasion. Tanning was able to meet many of the surrealists, including her future husband Max Ernst, when they fled the Nazis for New York.

Tannings 1940’s work is surrealist but also includes a great deal of dramatic gothic touches. The painting that has been used as the exhibition’s poster is amazing and much smaller than you expect it to be.

Eine Kleine Nachtmusik 1943

Eine Klien Nachtmusik (1943) has two girls in Victorian dress fighting a giant tentacled sunflower along a hotel corridor. As with many of Tannings paintings there are a number of doors- inviting you the viewer in.

Alyce Mahon, the exhibitions co-curator says ‘ The door is a talisman for the power of art over the spectator’.

In the 1950’s and 60’s Tanning moved away from Surrealism towards abstraction. Her paintings showed entwined figures which appear to loom out of a blue grey fog.

Poached Trout

Her work is usually accompanied by amusing titles, sometimes in French sometimes in English.  This woman had a sense of humour! As well as paintings and sculpture Tanning also designed for the theatre.

One room in the exhibition is named Maternities. Tanning did not have children but spoke of maternity in a broader sense and sometimes likened artworks to creative offspring. Some of her drawings from this time remind me very much of the raw, minimal vital drawings of Tracy Emin.

The last section of the exhibition shows Tanning’s move into soft sculpture. It is important to remember that she was a pioneer in this method of creativity way ahead of her time and prefiguring the work of Sarah Lucas and Louise Bourgeois. The Installation Hotel du Pavot : chamber 202, is magnificent and shocking all at the same time with its organic shaped forms, bodies?, bursting through the walls.

Installation Hotel du Pavot : chamber 202

Dorothea Tanning is at Tate Modern until June 9th 2019. A great Exhibition not to be missed.

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Jeff Koons at Oxford’s Ashmolean Museum

A major exhibition of the work of Jeff Koons (b. 1955) opened at the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, on 7 February- 9 June 2019 .

“I couldn’t think of a better place to have a dialogue about art today and what it can be.” Jeff Koons

Until I visited, I couldn’t think of a weirder or more inappropriate place to hold the exhibition. The Ashmolean, attached to Oxford University, one of the U.K.’s seats of learning, holding an exhibition of work that comes over, at first glance, as superficial, overblown and trashy.  Curated by Koons himself together with guest curator Norman Rosenthal, the show features seventeen important works, fourteen of which have never been exhibited in the UK before.

They span the artist’s entire career and his most well known series including Equilibrium, Statuary, Banality, Antiquity and his recent Gazing Ball sculptures and paintings.

Dr Xa Sturgis, Director of the Ashmolean, says: ‘In showing Jeff Koons at the Ashmolean, the world’s oldest public museum where the collections range from prehistory to the present, this exhibition provokes a conversation between his work and the history of art and ideas with which his work engages. I am sure it will also provoke conversations among those who see it.’

The press information describes ‘Jeff Koons as surrounded by superlatives. Since he burst onto the contemporary art scene in the 1980s he has been described as the most famous, important, subversive, controversial and expensive artist in the world. From his earliest works Koons has explored the ‘readymade’ and appropriated image – using unadulterated found objects, and creating painstaking replicas of ancient sculptures and Old Master paintings, which almost defy belief in their craftsmanship and precision.’

Well that is true up to a point, the work is beautiful the craftsmanship superb, but it isn’t he who has painted or sculpted. As in the tradition of many of the greats, he has a number of artists in his atelier who carry out the work on his behalf and under his direction, and it is his concept, that he oversees.

Throughout his career he has pushed at the boundaries of contemporary art practice, stretching the limits of what is possible. The Ashmolean exhibition includes important works from the 1980s with which Koons made his name through the novel use of the readymade and the appropriation of popular imagery: One Ball Total Equilibrium Tank 1985; Rabbit 1986; and Ushering in Banality 1988. It also explores Koons’s more recent focus on the art of antiquity and the western art canon where layered images of ancient and modern art meet in Koons’s singular vision.

Balloon Venus (Magenta)

Among the highlights are the spectacular Balloon Venus (Magenta) (2008–12). While evoking the tiny Ice Age ‘Venus of Willendorf’, one of the world’s oldest works of art, Balloon Venus (Magenta) is made with Koons’s signature motifs: monumental scale; the inflated balloon with its intimations of transience and mortality; and the flawless mirror-polished surface which positions the viewer in the work. He has put the figure through a double transformation from limestone sculpture to balloon model and from balloons to his trademark, super-reflective, coloured steel on a huge scale. The artist insisted on the model being made from a single balloon to maximise the sense of a continuous pressure all over.

The tiny Ice Age ‘Venus of Willendorf’

Reflective gazing balls are usually sold in suburban American garden centres, along with birdbaths and water features. The one’s Koons uses are handmade , specifically for him. His preoccupation with them ties in with recurring themes in his work: breath (they are hollow and hand blown) and the presence of the viewer in the art work- it is impossible to look at a gazing ball without seeing yourself and your surroundings.

“When I grew up, if you drove through Pennsylvania, people would put gazing balls in front of their houses. There’s a kind of generosity about that. Your neighbour doesn’t have to do that for whoever drives by.” Says Koons.

Shown in the UK for the first time are seven works from the series including Gazing Ball (Belvedere Torso) (2013), Gazing Ball (Gericault Raft of the Medusa) (2014–15), and Gazing Ball (Titian Diana and Actaeon) (2014–15).

“ The gazing ball represents the vastness of the universe and at the same time the intimacy of right here, right now.”

Curator, Sir Norman Rosenthal, says: ‘Jeff Koons’s work plays with our memories of childhood and our “educated” cultural experiences as he blends high and low culture, inviting us to challenge the distinction as we gaze at art and at ourselves. Putting his work in the Ashmolean – the first museum in the very heart of academia, Oxford University – we can take his experiment a step further. For those of us willing to share in his visions, Jeff Koons makes art a magical transformation.’

In case dear reader at the end of this article you think I don’t like his work, this is not the case-I love it. However, I am a great lover of kitsch and I am not sure where we draw the line between high art and kitsch.

Blog, Exhibitions

SCRAPS an Exhibition of recycled textiles

Sorry you’ve just missed it, as it closed the 14th January. Palm Springs art museum held a fabulous exhibition SCRAPS: Fashion, Textiles and Creative Reuse. I am posting this now as I feel it is so important that we understand the world has finite resources, and those that recognise this and try to do something about it should be applauded and publicised. The exhibition featured the work of three women, from three continents, who put recycling at the heart of their design process. Luisa Cevese from Italy, Christina Kim from Los Angeles USA and Reiko Sudo from Japan all share a profound respect for scraps as repositories of raw materials, energy. labour, and creativity. Inspired by the long tradition of using handcraft to give new life to scraps and cast-offs, each takes an entirely different approach to contending with textile waste.

Christina Kim the founder of the Los Angeles-based fashion brand Dosa, has always drawn inspiration from traditional textile cultures around the world. Working with local artisans, she provides sustainable livelihoods by engaging in long-term collaborative relationships and paying fair wages. Her longstanding reverence for hand woven cloth led her fifteen years ago to jamdani

-the gossamer cotton saris worn in Bengal, India and Bangladesh became the fabric for her 2003 collection. Recognising the cultural history and human creativity embedded in the cloth, Kim collected the cutting-room scraps and had them pieced and appliqued into a wholecloth by skilled embroiderers in Gujarat, India. A second generation of clothing was cut from the re-engineered fabric in 2008, and the scraps gathered from this collection were made into tikdi, or small dots, appliqued on silk scarves until all the scraps were used. Equally important to Kim’s zero-waste approach is her intent ‘to help keep different traditions alive… investing the human hand with more or as much value as the material itself.”

         Reiko Sudo is Japanese she was born in 1953

She has been transforming how we think about textiles for the last three decades. She is the principal designer and managing director of Nuno, founded in 1984 and known for combining Japanese handicraft tradition with textile technologies to create extraordinary futhe silk cnctional textiles. Always conscious of the impact textile production has on the environment, Sudo has recently explored the creative potential of silk waste. Since 2007, her primary focus has been kibso – the outermost layer of  the silk cocoon that protects the delicate silk underneath.

Retrieved before the silk reeling process, kibiso is too coarse for industrial weaving, but working in collaboration with the city of Tsuruoka, Sudo has converted kibiso  into finer yarn that can be machine woven. During her kibiso experimentation, Sudo discovered another silk waste, ogarami choshi, a residue that sticks to the spinning shaft and has to be cut away. When the layers of the tightly curled material are peeled apart, they can be pressed together to create a translucent patchwork paper.

Sudo takes kibiso  fabric scraps and machine embroiders them onto a water soluble mesh that is then dissolved to give an open lace-like effect.

Luisa Cevese was born in Italy in 1955

In India there is very little wasted, used saris are cleaned, repaired, and sold on the second hand market. Luisa uses the waste  from the sari refurbishment – damaged borders that are cut when the saris are re-hemmed. One of her ongoing fabrics since 2009 is Muticoloured Taj textile  scraps of sari embedded in polyurethane.